Sentence of the Day

Here’s why I don’t trust the Dems—I see them as the party of one marshmallow eaters.

Scott Sumner, a two-marshmallow man.


Great post of an obvious point. Put another way, people who "pay" (in opportunity cost) for leisure and status should not be subsidized by those who pay for conspicuous consumption, security, and family formation. If anything that last one should be subsidized, but at the very least we shouldn't be funneling money backwards the way we are now.

Relying on the myth that the poor are poor solely due to poor impulse control. In reality, some people are born into paths with "marshmallows" as available as air. They are surrounded by mallows at birth and continue to be surrounded by them until they graduate and get cushy jobs where mallows are delivered to them by the truckful every day. They complain bitterly when the government asks for 34% of them after the first 2,000,000 per year to run the country with.

Others are born into lives where they have to share mallows with their siblings, if there are any mallows at all, and go to crappy schools where there are few mallows, finally to enter a world where if they can find an honest job, they get one mallow a year, which they must give away to put a roof over their heads. If they're really diligent, by their forties, they can get two mallows a year. A few manage to break into that other, mallow-filled world, but many are not able to or don't even realize that they can.

That takes care of the "wealth distribution" part.

As for the Republican vs. Democrat part, what world is Sumner living in? Republicans eat both marshmallows plus borrow two from China and eat those two, while simultaneously cutting the marshmallow tax on people with more than 2,000,000 marshmallows per year in income. (Democrats eat both mallows while borrowing two from China, but work to gradually get things back on track to where mallows are consumed in balance to how they are gathered.) That's the reality of how the parties act, not the rhetoric. If Sumner genuinely believes that the Republican Party defers gratification in order to maximize long-term gains, he should be roundly ignored, or at the most pointed and laughed at.

Rich/poor and responsible/irresponsible are two different axes. But many policies ostensibly designed to help the poor also happen to subsidize the irresponsible. There are ways to address this (some policies are more or less linked across the two axes). But the first step is to recognize that this cross-subsidy is an actual problem, before emotionally and irrelevantly launching into a defense of the poor.

Agreed. Unfortunately, all the frivolous marshmallow analogy does is try to pretend that there is just one axis.

Only three comments down, and this is going to be the best of the lot.

Beautifully articulated

It's a slight problem, exaggerated by Republicans (Reagan and his "welfare queen") who want to create the impression that it's a large one and believed by people who fall for the just-world fallacy.

In Sumner's article, as Rahul points out, he doesn't even hint that there might be poor people who legitimately need the help. They're all "one-marshmallow" people for him. Sumner's either an idiot or a propagandist.

I see now that I misunderstood Sumner. Apologies.

If you read Sumner's article, he doesn't want people with high lifetime earnings but little savings to be subsidized more than an equivalent person with the same high lifetime earnings but more savings.

In reality, some people are born into paths with “marshmallows” as available as air. They are surrounded by mallows at birth and continue to be surrounded by them until they graduate and get cushy jobs where mallows are delivered to them by the truckful every day.

I cannot help but point out the delicious irony by saying:

And yet they are on average thinner.

Likely unintended irony sitting on top of a mediocre metaphor.
"Born with a silver spoon in his mouth" works better. . .
It shouldn't be too difficult to craft an adequate matching metaphor for the plight of the less fortunate citizen.
You go first " Born with a- - - - -in his - - - -"

You will never, ever make points with the "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" crowd. Their view: Everyone is equal in the sense that everyone has bootstraps. They talk of "subsidizing the irresponsible". Of course. Some, even many, irresponsible receive government benefits. So use a little government money, police the system more carefully, and move on. Or what? There's a flaw in the approach, so the concept is wrong? Toss out the baby with the bathwater. In my view, a very simplistic approach.
Our court system occasionally accidentally prosecutes the innocent and releases the guilty? Conservative, I believe, more readily accept punishing the innocent for much the same reason they hold that "bootstraps" belief. Better to execute the guilty and the innocent than to release a guilty person occasionally. Is it mere callousness or some specific ideological view of "justice"?
I'm sure there is some sociological study out there that proves that the number of lives lost at the hands of accidentally-released guilty people outnumber the number of guilty people whose lives are destroyed by a weakness in the justice system. If there's not, some conservative will construct one and guide its results to the desired conclusions.
Interestingly, there isn't as much call from conservatives to try to reform this "bug" in the legal system as there is to reform our social safety net for its perceived bug.

Couldn't one also argue, as many do when it comes to sports, that mallow everywhere would tend to reduce motivation and effort producing a flabby and poorly motivated person.

You certainly could argue that. But does that trump what seems to me the prevailing conservative assumption that everyone should be able to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps' and that therefore all those who don't are lazy, misbegotten, worthless beings who don't deserve society's help or consideration?
And I'm not saying that there are not liberals who succumb to an indiscriminate "bootstrap" view of humanity. I am saying that I have no doubt that the generalizing aspect of the "bootstrap" approach represents the prevailing conservative view. It's certainly an effective cost-cutting measure.

Sumner thinks we'd be better off being governed by impulsive, undisciplined decision-makers? That's a disgusting moral sentiment.

No, the two-marshmellow eaters delay gratification to get a second.

Am I misunderstanding this? If you eat the one marshmallow (quickly, before the experiment's administrator comes back), you don't get a second. If you wait, you get two marshmallows. If this is the correct interpretation then Sumner is praising Republicans for not being prissy and just wolfing down the first marshmallow. Do I have this wrong?

Never mind. I'm a fool. I get it now. (I hesitate to think what that makes me.)

What Scott Sumner conveniently forgets is that it is easier to save half your life's income when you are making $80,000 as opposed to $30,000 a year. Basic living expenses do not conveniently scale linearly with income.

It is easier to forgo a marshmallow and later gloat over your 2-marshmallow reward if you didn't start out starving in the first place. So much for stupid marshmallow analogies.

Scott Sumner is reeking of his just-world fallacy: He obviously deserves his two marshmallows and the poor sods who ate one were slackers.

Actually, the majority of the time, Scott takes the opposte stance. Did you act prudently, save your money, refrain from buying an overpriced house, and generally live within your means? Then you get to suffer higher inflation while we bail out the idiots with your money!

The point is that all the "virtues" you listed are nothing of the sort. It is their fault now for hoarding and not spending. For every saver there must be a borrower by definition. If everyone saves, everyone loses. one side is not better than the other, they are mutually benefiting from the arrangement.

Your assertions are absurd. First of all, retail sales are at an all-time high, while private investment continues to seriously lag, so if anything it seems there are not enough savers?

Second of all, obviously it is totally erroneous to say that for every saver there must be a borrower "by definition". Where is the person borrowing the bars of silver bullion in my safe deposit box???

Also, if you read to the end, you see that he says means testing should be based on lifetime earnings, *irrespective* of savings, and this is to avoid giving money to people who earned a lot but ended up with little due to having saved too little. I think your'e being hasty in characterizing his opinion.

That's how college "financial aid" works, isn't it? Save money and you get your "expected family contribution" reduced by about 40%. That's a wicked asset tax.

Except, unless you are really really poor, its just not that hard to put a roof over your head in a country this rich. I grew up in a lower middle class working household, now I'm making close to what Sumner makes and will probably make more after I'm 30.

Believe it or not, studying and planning diligently works for the vast majority of people. I feel for the bottom 10% who doesn't stand a chance, but I won't be held hostage to the middle 80% who use their plight to justify mugging me.

thats a great way of summing up the current situation. people keep using the classifications of the have's and have-not's. but i think theres a third group, the have-not-enough's, which i think is an apt description of the middle class. when i was younger, i thought Milton Friedman was unfairly generalizing, but now ive to believe he was right that the most selfish people are the middle class.

Were you trying to summarize the article, Alex, or just give a content free teaser?

For those of you who would like to know whether it would be a waste of time, let me do Alex's job for him: The marshmallow reference is to the experiment where they found out which kids would be willing to defer eating one marshmallow in order to eat two later, which turned out to correlate strongly with prudence in later life. One-marshmallowers are imprudent and end up being deemed as worthy targets of aid by Dems.

Stop posting like Tyler, Alex.

Silas is rude and I don't like his posts.

Alex is smarter than you in that he recognizes that 99% of his target audience know what a reference to marshmallow means.

I heard the marshmallow analogy so often I started looking for some pushback because it seemed like the conventional wisdom.

Both one and two marshmallow eaters vote. If there are more single than double marshmallanites(?), at the end of the day those people are not going to starve and will vote themselves benefits. Period. It's superfluous, fluff if you will, to bother yourself over how the majority got into thier situation after the fact. Worry about setting up incentives up front, including forced savings programs and don't worry so much about dessert. Ahem.

The poor have scarce marshmellows because the one-marshmellow eaters planned poorly.

Half the Red Party is merely conservative progressives, and all is funnelled through the Public Policy Bureaucracy. Sumner does not mean the Party Apparatchiks.

That makes Republicans the kids who eat the first marshmallow and then throw a screaming tantrum until their parents give them not just one more marshmallow but the entire bag, right?

I think it makes the Democrats the ones who eat the first mashmallow because they'll just steal the Republican's second one.

He's retiring in 6 years?!? That's like 2nd tenure.

Terry Pratchett (Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms):
"The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness."

So how does that work in the world of Chinese imports where all boots regardless of price are made by the same manufacturer and are equivalent to ten dollar boots?

My boots where made in Italy.

My feet could never take wearing the same pair of boots for ten years.

If I'm a two marshmallow person then I'm thinking about the future. Which would make me more likely to realize that despite my best planning the stock market could crash, or I could have a debilitating injury before I am able to save the money necessary to retire. Thus I would realize the value of having a program like social security in place that gives less to those who have the means, so that it has more to give to those who don't.

There are those who do the more politically expeditious thing in both parties. But to say Democrats are one marshmallow-ers because they provide for the poor, disabled and socially disadvantaged is a pretty one marshmallow way to look at the world.

Here's the problem to solve- how do you keep this from producing more 1 marshmellow people. Just because some people have good impulse control does not mean they won't take advantage of a free lunch.

"Thus I would realize the value of having a program like social security in place that gives less to those who have the means, so that it has more to give to those who don’t."

Social security is not as redistributive as you think. Your SS income is proportional to the amount you paid in payroll taxes. The cap on payroll taxes simply means that SS taxes and income are a smaller portion of the income in well to do households, which is irrelevant. The IRR is what is relevant.

Someone always mentions removing the cap on payroll taxes to balance cash basis accounting of SS for the indefinite future. They almost always omit that they plan on keeping the cap on SS income, which would lead to certain households having a negative IRR on SS taxes and income.

I can see people here misread my post just as did many of my readers. It was intended to merely focus on saving, considering only people with incomes of $80,000. I did not intend any of the comments to be about poverty, the merits of redistributing income to the poor, etc. I happen to favor income redistribution to the poor. What I meant was that I oppose redistributing income from a high saving person to a low saving person with the exact same lifetime wage income. That is all.

And I certainly wasn't being critical of low savers, the three car garage comment was just a joke.

JewishAtheist and Rahul seem to have misunderstood my argument. BTW, I don't believe that most people are poor because of a lack of saving, but rather because of a lack of opportunity. Especially in the third world.

Mea culpa. I overreacted. I thought you meant something you didn't.

That's an even more bizarre argument then. How in the world would you test for that?

It's always sucked to be the person who saves and is responsible. Social Security was actually invented by people like you because it exists specifically to make sure that the people who don't save and are going to become a drain on society put at least SOMETHING into the pot before they start draining.

Not to mention that for some bizarre reason we stop collecting payroll taxes once you make over a certain amount actually encouraging the rich to save less and spend more today.

We could easily fund social security by just raising the payroll tax ceiling (or eliminating it completely).

Why is it bizarre that there is a cap on payroll taxes, given you logic one post above Tim? If the system was invented to make sure that people who don't save are putting something in the pot, then isn't it perfectly logical that there is a cap? Don't high earners pay in much more than they will ever take out already? Increasing the cap means that you make the program less about forced savings and more about welfare. We don't have to get into whether this is optimal policy or not, but the cap seems to be perfectly logical under the intent of the program as you described it.

Social Security, of all people, has ready access to your lifetime earnings. That's how your benefits are determined.

It sounds like Scott wants the benefit formula to be more progressive; and I think he's right that it's the least-bad alternative.

Hmm, I guess I did misunderstand, I'm sorry. I was reacting to the Dem vs. Republican part and the usual arguments the Republicans make.

I've never heard of the idea that social security be means-tested based on wealth and it seems wildly implausible that it would ever happen.

BTW, I don’t believe that most people are poor because of a lack of saving,

If economics were a science, such a simple thing would have been worked out long ago and no require any beliefs attached to it.

I don't think you understand what is simple and what is not

Well, if that is not simple then there are no simple things in economics. Imagine: a science with every question very difficult!

How can Sumner theorise about American Social Security as if it applied to a world with equal endowments?

It's not just in retirement -- the 'two marshmallow' people also get nailed when paying for their kids' college education. If you have savings, they all go into the FAFSA calculation. But people with equivalent income who spend everything they earn and save very little? Those families get financial aid.

Bury gold in your backyard.

What a stupid link. So tax cuts today, deficits tomorrow, this is a two-marshmellow approach? Or how about don't pay for social-security net today, you're screwed if you get fired tomorrow?

I think a sober assessment of policy proposals would indicate that the question of one/two marshmellows is entirely orthogonal to the question of liberal/conservative economic policy.

The first sentence doesn't really help - Scott's unlikely to agree with you since agreeing with you would mean agreeing that he was stupid. And it doesn't help the force of your argument at all. All of your points can be made without the assertion in the first sentence.

This is an example of how intellectually crippling partisan politics is. You realize that criticizing the Democrats is not the same as endorsing the Republicans, right? In no way did he remotely endorse the Republicans, and in no way are the failings of the Republican party a valid excuse or comeback to critisism of the Democrats.

Come on, VD. When you single out one party as being guilty of something, you are implicitly saying the other party is innocent. And that implication - that the GOP is a two-marshmallow party - is absurd. What is manic tax-cutting but one-m behavior? What is fighting wars of choice on the credit card? What is cutting education and infrastructure budgets in order to keep up the tax-cut frenzy? What is trying to gut environmental protections and "drill-baby-drill?"

1. The economy is not the government and vice versa.

2. War is supposed to be a temporary expenditure, although Obama says different.

It's worth noting that the Marshmellow Test <a href=""probably has no correlation with success in life.

Thanks for the link. Can we dispose of this idea now?

No. What you should do is go read the entire NurtureShock book.

Also, Sumner is not talking about the marshmallow test. He's talking about that meme as an analogy. He's not suggesting that Democrats just really enjoy marshmallows.

"Like Mischel, Eigsti had a handful of kids—five—who ate the cookie in under a minute. But these kids also were noted to demonstrate a lot of the symptomology of ADHD. Which could mean that the famous Marshmallow Task is just another way to identify kids with ADHD."

1. Throwing in an effect will change your aggregated average. 2. The test may test for something after all, even if a lot of people, as is always the case, want to make it carry more weight than it can. 3. Looking at people years and years afterward may just be testing their ability to self-cope with ADHD. etc.

"Eigsti does not feel her data disproves Mischel—he was actually a co-author on her paper, and she thinks her work is consistent. But she’s unequivocal about whether the marshmallow test should be used to determine entrance to private schools."

The NurtureShock authors are talking about whether these early life tests should be used to determine a child's future. The answer is no. They are not talking about what Sumner is talking about. So, it's a different context. Sumner is not talking about the merits of the experiment. He is talking about the people who remain one-marshmallow eaters throughout life extracting their marshmallows from the two-marshmallow eaters. NurtureShock authors are saying that if you are a one-marshmallow eater at 4, you may not be at 40. Sumner is talking about those people for whom the test has PROVEN true over a lifetime of short time-preference. He's not talking about deciding anyone's fate at age 4.

"The test isn't fair" is an entirely different concept than "the test isn't an accurate predictor."

And it's a bad analogy, which he seems to admit.

So what is the point again?

Anybody who thinks that the poor don't need to work more, or get more education, needs to look at the actual household income statistics.

The author offers exactly one reason for believing that Dems are one-marshmallow people, which he then admits in an update is factually incorrect. So how is this the sentence of the day? Because it confirms Alex's preconceptions?

I'm glad you're not the only one who noticed. I don't understand Tabarrok's relentless desire to ruin this blog with his low grade partisan hackery. Surely the clowns at Freep or Red State will give him a spot for this sort of nonsense.

It is really commendable article.You thought really nice.I love this to read.

So what if democrats represent the interests of those with less impulse control. In the studies referenced the child's ability to delay gratification determined adult outcomes, this suggests that we have less control over our actions and fates and argues in favor of paternalistic government intervention rather than against it.

Asian youth:
strongly trends Democrat. I am guessing Asian youth do pretty well on the two marshmallow test.

Don't all youth strongly trend Democrat? ;

Let's not forget that in the Mischel study he's referencing. The study and followup data demonstrated that individuals didn't ever make a decision to be one- or two-marshmellow people. These 4-year old children were already demonstrating their relative capacities for self-regulation--capacities that stated more-or-less constant their entire lives. It isn't that some of the children were lazy or undisciplined while others were more sophisticated. Saying one is a "two-marshmellow person" is like saying they have "perfect pitch" or aren't colorblind.

If he is a utilitarian as he claims to be, then he must recognize that not everyone has the capacity to be as self-regulatory as he claims to be. One of the essentials of utilitiarian thinking is understanding how people ACTUALLY are. Scott is bothered at attempts to redistribute resources from people with an unequally distributed cognitive advantage to those who lack this advantage. In other words, some people get all the luck, and they deserve to keep it.

Mischel's study showed very clearly that all people are NOT created equally. Scott opposes those who accept this finding, wanting instead to punish people for being born differently.

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